The High Cost of Failure
Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.)
Randall Forsberg's article, a call to action and appeal to people of conscience,
should be heeded by all who seek to insert morality, the rule of law, and
humanity into our domestic and international affairs. "Toward the End of War"
powerfully illuminates our extraordinary and evanescent opportunity to move
humanity into an era in which the large-scale resort to violence becomes unacceptable
and unavailable. This opportunity is available now, but it will dissipate
quickly if we continue on our current course.
Reading Forsberg's article reminded me of the costs associated with the great
silence between the end of direct US military involvement in Southeast Asia
and the first audible stirrings of the nuclear freeze movement. The great
political movement that ended the United States' tragically misguided Vietnam
adventurism declared victory and went home when it should have turned its
attention to the next great challenge: ending the Cold War mentality that
continued to drain tens of billions of dollars from our civilian economy with
unnecessary, duplicative, or destabilizing military spending.
Only after Ronald Reagan's election to the presidency, and the broadcast
of his proposal to develop and deploy a first-strike nuclear war-fighting
capability, did the "movement" enliven, coalesce, and mobilize to bring a
halt to that new madness.
What a frustration; what a waste. The military budget nearly doubled in a
few short years; crisis instability threatened to put the world's nuclear
powers into a launch-on-warning mode; and now, a decade and a half later,
Russia's economy has collapsed under the weight of its military spending and
the United States still suffers joblessness, homelessness, and social disruption
directly attributable to the resources squandered on false priorities during
Had the anti-war movement turned more quickly into a peace movement, we might
have avoided that era. Instead, politicians felt no pressure during the late
1970s for further military budget cuts and the movement was too late in organizing
to prevent the "baseline" from being ratcheted up to current levels. (In fact,
the Reagan electoral pressure forced President Carter to significantly boost
military spending on his way out the door in 1981.)
Forsberg's article starkly reminds us of the imperative of seizing the present
advantage that is available to us--and of the costs of failure. In this respect,
it is similar to a call that I issued in a "white paper" to a conference sponsored
by the Congressional Progressive Caucus this past spring. There, I argued
for progressives to lead a debate on the development of a new national security
The call to end war has many dimensions. Forsberg focuses on the opportunity
to eliminate large-scale, cross-border violence and correctly points out the
most compelling strategy to achieve that goal: eliminate large, comprehensive,
standing armies that have the capacity for unilateral military engagement
against other nations; and, by implication, rely upon international coalitions
of military forces to resist aggression. She notes at different points many
of the other elements necessary to ending the "culture of war"-arms control,
realignment of budgetary priorities, domestic and international investments
in sustainable economic development, and diplomacy and conflict resolution.
While some may associate Forsberg's main argument only with a "peace community"
approach to these issues, it bears noting that William Perry, before he was
nominated to serve in President Clinton's Defense Department, offered a similar
argument in a 1993 Brookings Institution publication on post-Cold War military
issues. In his essay he called for significant reductions in US ground forces,
while maintaining air and logistics forces. Remaining US military assets would
then be effective only when deployed along with coalition partners in efforts
to prevent or reverse aggression--they would not constitute by themselves
an organic capability for a large expeditionary force. Obviously, this argument
has not been guiding recent US policy.
At the end of World War II--and throughout the Cold War--the United States
squandered opportunities to build an effective international architecture
for nuclear and conventional disarmament, comprehensive non-violent decolonization,
conflict-resolution mechanisms, and international economic development strategies
that would lead to more stable regional environments. Forsberg highlights
the fact that nearly a decade past the end of the Cold War, we are still ignoring
such opportunities. If this pattern continues, I fear we shall reap the same
harvest--decades of arms races, regional and international instability, and
the obscene squandering of precious national resources (in many nations) on
armaments rather than productive civilian investments.
The expansion of human rights, the realization of political democracy and
sustainable economic justice, the implementation of successful arms control
regimes, and the enhancement of opportunities to promote or keep the peace
must become the cornerstones of US foreign and defense policy. A failure to
pursue such an aggressive agenda--what I have elsewhere called "preventative
engagement"--will threaten the very security of our nation and the future
of our children more surely than any military threat that might emerge in
the next decade to quarter of a century.
Rather than focusing our perennial movement energy on isolated weapons programs,
progressives should, as Forsberg argues, demand a new national security agenda.
We should demand energetic and imaginative responses to the opportunities
that exist to make our world a more secure place: We should insist that START
III negotiations begin now; we should call for restraints in US arms sales
and leadership in scaling them back from other countries as well; we should
embrace international institutions such as the United Nations and be willing
to recognize the importance of US participation in peace keeping and peace
promotion; we should insist on equitable funding among all three national
security budget accounts---our foreign affairs programs, our domestic investments,
and our military spending. Such an agenda is large and ambitious, but it responds
to the dictum laid down by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: Peace is
not just the absence of war, it is the absence of conditions that give rise
to violence. This is the campaign we must lead and Randy Forsberg has quite
appropriately awakened us to the urgent reality of this responsibility.